The WHO, UNICEF, NCD Alliance and the Norwegian Minister of International Development recently penned an open letter to the Heads of State and Government entitled, “Building Back Better: Investing in healthy populations and resilient health systems for NCDs and Mental Health to be better prepared for future crises”. The letter implores governments to act on political momentum surrounding health for the prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) which account for 70% of global deaths.
“NCDs are the largest, and yet most underfunded, public health issue globally, where the most lives could be saved. For too long they have been overlooked by leaders and policymakers”.
The letter highlights that investing in prevention must be fairer and smarter, to suit the needs of society and those living with NCDs, which include cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.
It is more than a health issue, it is also an economic one. For every US$ 1 invested in NCD prevention and control, a return of US$ 7 by 2030 will be yielded, with an increased labour force and decreased pressure on social security systems. Moreover, NCDs also have massive social ramifications. The deep existing inequalities in society result in certain people and communities being more vulnerable to the development of NCDs than others. Future investments in prevention must counter these inequalities.
A key component in prevention is the promotion of physical activity due to its benefits for physical and mental health in reducing the risk factors for NCDs. The letter highlights that the lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions have exacerbated the already alarmingly high levels of physical inactivity, particularly among young people, 80% of whom were not engaging in the recommended levels of physical activity even before the pandemic.
The letter pleads with governments to build back better from the pandemic in a smarter and fairer way, ensuring that those with NCDs are not left behind. It pledges to continue to advocate for implementing and investing in sustainable and inclusive NCD prevention and treatment.